Maggie A Girl of the Streets: Novel Summary: Chapter 17

On a rainy night several months later the respectable theaters are letting out from the evening show. Numerous carriages and cabs sit waiting in the street for the flood of humanity exiting the well-lit theaters. Flower vendors and other merchants make their wares known in the hustle and bustle of men and women walking through the downpour. Everywhere people are talking and socializing and basking in the memory of the theater. The streets are full of upturned umbrellas and the happy confidence of well-to-do people making their way home from the theaters – “the places of forgetfulness” in the narrators words. In an adjacent park a dejected group of homeless souls sit upon the benches. A girl with painted cheeks passes among the throng. She gives meaningful glances to those men whom she deems of unsophisticated tastes and rural tendencies while she studiously avoids contact with men of more cosmopolitan demeanor. The girl walks purposefully through the crowd and takes care to lift the skirts of her fine cloak away from the puddles. A debonair young man with a cigarette looks back interestedly at the girl as she passes but then noticing that she is somewhat worn out and certainly not exotic, he quickly looks away. A large man with a bushy beard passes her and makes a great point of ignoring her. A businessman rushing across the street mistakes the girl for her mother and calls her Mary. From the theaters to the saloons and onto the darker avenues the girl continues walking. A young man refutes her gaze and reminds her that he is not a farmer. An even younger man, a farm boy from the looks of him, passes and the girl gives him a long pointed look but he says: “Not this eve-some other eve!” An inebriated man sees the girl and begins to loudly bemoan his lack of funds. The girl proceeds to the factory district near the river where many of the streets are shrouded in inky darkness. From a saloon she hears the sound of a violin and the noise of riotous laughter. One pockmarked man refuses the girl, claiming hes already got another, and a second man claims to be short of money. Finally the girl enter the last block before the river. The sounds of the city are far off and the light is lost in the darkness. Near the river the girl sees a fat man in ragged clothes. His hair is gray and his eyes peer out from his fat face and encompass the girl. His laughter is maniacal. He follows the girl to the river where the sounds of life cease.
Analysis of Chapter 17
The publisher of the second edition in 1896 considered this chapter too controversial for inclusion and Crane agreed to remove it. The general reading public had never been exposed to such a frank discussion of the realities of prostitution and the sympathy engendered by Maggies plight failed to express the didactic tone common to other works of the time which condemned the trade and the women who practiced it. Far from doing that, however, this chapter without even identifying Maggie by name evokes genuine compassion for the poor girl whose search for a companion takes her from the fringes of respectable society to the river where she drowns herself. Along the way she comes into contact with increasingly unsavory men who reject her for a variety of reasons. Significantly Maggie, who previously shied away from the attentions of strange men, now seeks their attention earnestly and with increasing desperation. We can surmise that she has been reasonably successful as a prostitute from her fine cloak and shoes but we also know that she has had to sacrifice what scruples she might have had in order to survive. We can also infer that the months on the street have been hard on her when one man rejects her because she looks worn and another mistakes her for her mother. Cranes prose in this chapter is bitterly removed from the subject and creates a sense of detachment in the reader as Maggie fruitlessly pursues a client of any sort and, failing in that, kills herself.